Scientists say they have discovered a new way to kill California's most virulent forest- and plant-depleting disease, and it turns out the technique is as old as steam cleaning.

Steam, in fact, is what researchers at Dominican University in San Rafael have been using to combat Phytophthora ramorum, a pathogen that causes sudden oak death.

Scientists from a variety of organizations including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and Oregon State University demonstrated what appears to be an effective steam-sterilization technique Tuesday on a research plot of ornamental plants at Dominican.

"It's certainly a new use for steam sterilization," said Robert Leavitt, director of plant health for the Department of Food and Agriculture.

The disease, called ramorum blight when found in nurseries and sudden oak death in the wild, has 107 susceptible host plants, including such common garden ornamentals as camellias. It was discovered in the woodlands of Mill Valley in 1995 and has spread to forests and wildlands in 14 California counties and Curry County, Ore.

For more, see: Steam shown to kill Calif. plant disease